Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Street with Wayne Wonder and Tanya Stephens By Shelah Moody

Nov. 26, 2010, the day after Thanksgiving, may have been just another black Friday to Christmas shoppers, but it will go down in history as one of the hottest nights in the Bay Area for reggae fans, with reggae dancehall stars Wayne Wonder, Mega Banton and Tanya Stephens performing in Berkeley and San Francisco.
At the Shattuck Down Low in Berkeley, Jamaica Artist Live and Knak Dem Out Productions presented Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Wayne Wonder. .

Wonder’s voice is pure ear candy; his mellifluous tenor was shining through even though he performed his string of hits: “No Letting Go,” “Bounce Along,”  “The Saddest Day” and “Anything Goes” to pre-recorded tracks provided by DJ Babyface of King Addies Sound System.
Dancehall DJ Mega Banton, a star in his own right, opened for Wonder and performed Buju Banton’s part on Wonder’s 1990s dancehall cover of Delroy Wilson’s “Movie Star.”
“It’s always a pleasure, coming back and singing for people in the Bay Area,” said Wonder, who is best known for his smooth, romantic vocals. “They have been my core support over the years.”
At the height of his popularity soon after the release of “No Holding Back,
 which elevated Wonder to pop star status, Wonder appeared on “Saturday Night Live” with Sean Paul and performed at the Wango Tango pop festival at the Rosebowl stadium in Pasadena, CA on the bill with artists such as Nelly, Sting, Carlos Santana and Christina Aguilera in 2003. Wonder, who grew up in the age of vinyl and radio, has now made the successful transition to iTunes and Internet downloads.
At the time of our interview, Wonder’s jazzy/sexy/cool dancehall track “If I Ever” was number six on Reggae iTunes. Wonder has left VP Records, which produced many of his albums including the Grammy nominated “No Letting Go” (2002). He  is currently recording on his independent label Singso, and says that working independently gives him more artistic freedom.  
“I’m a free agent right now, so I’m just doing my thing,” said Wonder. “I’m flying out to Toronto in the morning. I’m on the grind, you know.”
Always a dapper king, Wonder took the stage wearing Versace and Gucci. Carmelita Harris, host of TV shows for Irievision and Streetwise Radio, topped off his black ensemble when she presented him with a collectable San Francisco Giants World Series Champions hat after the show.
Wonder is still a strong supporter of his longtime friend and collaborator, Buju Banton, who is currently out on bail and awaiting retrial in February (on federal drugs charges relating to cocaine).  Wonder is scheduled to perform with Buju Banton in his first concert in more than a year. “Buju Banton & Friends: Before  the Dawn” concert, which will also feature Stephen Marley, Shaggy, Gramps Morgan and Freddie McGregor,  will be held January 16, 2011, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami, FL. (www.BUJULIVE.com).
“I just pray for him right now, for a positive outcome,” said Wonder. “That’s all we can hope for.”

Wonder, who will be spending his Christmas performing in Japan, sent out a special holiday wish for his fans: hold your head up, look forward to the new year and stay positive.
While Wayne Wonder’s show was going on in Berkeley, dancehall queen Tanya Stephens was doing her thing at 1015 Folsom Street nightclub in San Francisco. Stephens came out for for Angel Magik’s 9th anniversary celebration, hosted by promoter Johnny Mack, featuring DJs Serg (Kittys), I-Vier and Irie Dole (Jah Warrior Shelter), Smoky (King of Kings) Green  B and Danekah (Cooyah), DJ Theory and Jaw Breaker (Angel Magik Riddim Express).

Streetwise Radio (and Mega Banton, who later joined her on stage ) raced across the bridge to catch Stephens’ set.
A singer/songwriter/DJ known for her melodic, syncopated stories, many  of which deal with the politics of romantic relationships and include sexual innuendos, Stephenshad already gone through her catalog of dancehall hits: “Goggle,” “Big Ninja Bike,” “Good Ride,” “You Nuh Ready Yet,”  “Boom Wuk,” “Can’t Breathe,” “It’s a Pity,” “These Streets” when we arrived. As more people arrived, Stephens (who sang to pre-recorded tracks) actually performed the same tracks again for those who missed their favorite songs  and even took requests from the audience.
Always delivering more that’s expected Stephens joined her fans on the dance floor, busting a few moves, signing autographs and posing for photos after the show.
“I really enjoyed being here,” said Stephens. “I feel so at home when I come (to the Bay Area); I feel like I’m among kindred spirits. I feel like it’s not a show, it’s more like me hanging out and being myself and being comfortable.”
Stephens loves her job and says that meeting new people is the best part. She loves to laugh, share ideas and an occasional cocktail. Stephens admits that her 16-year-old daughter looks at her like she’s from another planet when she watches her dance, but she does not care.  Stephens once owned a bar in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. She has one eye tattooed on the back of each hand so that she can always see what’s going on.  
During our interview, Stephens also reflected on the passing of reggae crooner Gregory Isaacs this year.
“I knew Gregory’s story but I just wanted him to live forever,” said Stephens, who also admires Smokey Robinson and covered his composition “Tracks of My Tears.” .
“I love Gregory. I’ve never met another artist who I’ve been around and have just been dumbstruck. As long as I knew him, I never said a sentence to him. When I perform, I do a little bit of ‘Night Nurse,’ but my all time favorite Gregory Isaacs song is ‘Love is Overdue.’ I grew up loving it.  Nobody can do it like Gregory. He cannot be replaced. We just have to take the things that we love and immortalize them and keep them.  He was such a good spirit and I’ll always keep his energy with me. ”
Stephens, who releases her music through her independent label, Tarantula Records, currently has an album out called “Infallible,” which is free to download by anyone who wants it. (www.bymriddim.com).
“People have supported me for decades, and “Infallible” is my gift to my fans,” said Stephens. “There are many very talented people out there; Jamaica is full of them and that’s just one island. People aren’t obligated to like me. That fact that I’ve managed to be around and stay around this long is something that I am very grateful for. I have a new album coming out that I’m going to drop through the regular channels. I’m working with people from all over the Caribbean and getting different sounds. I’m even on a Zouk beat. I love Zouk, it’s so sexy and so raunchy that you just want to bump and grind. I’m always working and I always have stuff to share; the best is yet to come.”

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